Longevity

Bioethicists Object to Rich Tech Folks Seeking Immortality

The ultimate class envy?

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LongevityPost
Washington Post

The Sunday Washington Post featured a fascinating front page article, "Tech Titans Latest Project: Defy Death," which reports how prominent Infotech moguls are funding research that aims to increase healthy longevity and forestall the ravages of aging. As the Post reports:

Using their ideas and their billions, the visionaries who created Silicon Valley's biggest technology firms are trying to transform the most complicated system in existence: the human body.

Hooray for them, right? Not so fast say various bioethicists in quoted by the Post:

Their confidence in that wizardry and their own ideas may lead them to underestimate the downsides and even dangers of the work they are funding, say some science philosophers, historians and economists. Their research in stem cells, neuroscience, genetically modified organisms and viruses, for example, tinkers with nature in big ways that easily could go awry — and operates in a largely unregulated space.

Their work to slow or stop aging, if successful, is also likely to lead to broader societal upheaval, increasing pressure on natural resources and on the economy, as people live longer, work longer and imperil already strained entitlements such as Social Security. Life extension also would radically change the most important building block of society: the family. No one seems able to predict what life might be like when half a dozen or more generations are alive simultaneously.

Laurie Zoloth, a bioethicist at Northwestern University, worries that some of the billionaires' obsession with longevity may be driven as much by hubris as a desire to do public good.

"It's incredibly exciting and wonderful to be part of a species that dreams in a big way," she said. "But I also want to be part of a species that takes care of the poor and the dying, and I'm worried that our attention is being drawn away to a glittery future world that is fantasy and not the world we live in." …

Zoloth, the Northwestern University bioethicist, said there is a reason why science often moves slowly.

"Making scientific progress faster doesn't necessarily mean better — unless if you're an aging philanthropist and want an answer in your lifetime," she said. "Science is about an arc of knowledge, and it can take a long time to play out. Sometimes we won't know answers for generations." …

"I think that research into life extension is going to end up being a big social disaster," [Francis] Fukuyama, [political theorist and former member of the President's Council on Bioethics,] said in an interview. "Extending the average human life span is a great example of something that is individually desirably by almost everyone but collectively not a good thing. For evolutionary reasons, there is a good reason why we die when we do."

Leon Kass, a physician and former head of the President's Council on Bioethics observes: 

"Would it not be the ultimate injustice if only some people could afford a deathless existence, if the world were divided not only into rich and poor but into mortal and immortal?"

I much prefer Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel's view of the matter:

"I've always had this really strong sense that death was a terrible, terrible thing," [Thiel] said. "I think that's somewhat unusual. Most people end up compartmentalizing and they are in some weird mode of denial and acceptance about death, but they both have the result of making you very passive. I prefer to fight it."

"The great unfinished task of the modern world is to turn death from a fact of life into a problem to be solved — a problem towards whose solution I hope to contribute in whatever way I can."

Good for him.

For more background, see my 2008 interview, Technology is at the Center, with Thiel in which he offers his views on the ethics of increasing healthy human lifespans and the Singularity. See also my article, Eternal Youth For All, in the March 2015 issue.

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  1. Hint for ‘bio-ethicists’ (scare quotes on purpose): If the rich don’t paga when it ain’t cheap, you’ll never get it.
    Want to stop medical science in its tracks? Just mandate that no pill can cost more than five bucks or some such. That way you f’ing ‘busybodies’ can make sure we all die equally young

    1. “Ethics” is just in the job title. It’s like HR, which punishes humans for being human. There’s no imperative in the word.

  2. “I think that research into life extension is going to end up being a big social disaster,” [Francis] Fukuyama, [political theorist and former member of the President’s Council on Bioethics,] said in an interview. “Extending the average human life span is a great example of something that is individually desirably by almost everyone but collectively not a good thing. For evolutionary reasons, there is a good reason why we die when we do.”

    “Would it not be the ultimate injustice if only some people could afford a deathless existence, if the world were divided not only into rich and poor but into mortal and immortal?”

    Well there you go: civilization is one giant suicide pact.

    1. “For evolutionary reasons, there is a good reason why we die when we do.”

      Someone should tell Francis that historically we died about half the age we currently do. In parts of Africa they still die at that age.

      By his logic, evolution says we should all die at 40 and Francis should have died in 1992, right around the time he was writing ‘The End of History.’

      1. “[…]he was writing ‘The End of History.'”
        Pretty much sets the bar for his predictions, no? He and Paul Ehrlich should have a lot to discuss.

    2. “I think that research into life extension is going to end up being a big social disaster,” [Francis] Fukuyama, [political theorist and former member of the President’s Council on Bioethics,] said in an interview. “Extending the average human life span is a great example of something that is individually desirably by almost everyone but collectively not a good thing. For evolutionary reasons, there is a good reason why we die when we do.”

      You first, Francis.

  3. operates in a largely unregulated space

    I can’t help but laugh when I see people shit their pants over a lack of “regulation”. There is never any attempt to explain why that is a bad thing.

    1. “Your comment is highly irregular, sirrah!”

  4. Their research … operates in a largely unregulated space.

    God’s will be done.

    /Evangelical

  5. “No one seems able to predict what life might be like when half a dozen or more generations are alive simultaneously.”

    GET OFF MY LAWN! Sign sales will skyrocket. Women, children, and minorities will be hardest hit.

    That wasn’t too difficult.

    1. “No one seems able to predict what life might be like when half a dozen or more generations are alive simultaneously.”

      Paging “Old Man With Candy” ….

    2. Well, let’s see. Taking a standard length of about 25 years, we’ve already got three, maybe four generations alive simultaneously.

      I’m not seeing the big crisis here.

      1. Imagine a world where the current US senate never has to retire due to age.

        1. Imagine a world where bright people who aren’t in the oldest generation stop supporting seniority rule in hope of inheriting the top slots in due course.

  6. My goodness, could these people do any better job of living up to Ayn Rand’s characterization of modern academics?

    She wrote that most of modern philosophy advocated death, but boy oh boy it never really struck me how literally she meant it.

  7. For evolutionary reasons, there is a good reason why we die when we do.

    So we’ll evolve to live in a world without death. Why does evolution have to occur at the pace of “nature”? Why can’t we evolve ourselves?

    1. From the view point of our ancestors we might as well be immortal.
      Cave-man: “I’m telling you Grok, no human will ever live to 100. It’s impossible!”

  8. No one seems able to predict what life might be like when half a dozen or more generations are alive simultaneously.

    My mom showed me the 5 generation picture she took once. But only a brief glance at it because the world might end if that picture were to get out.

    1. I had a 45 year old neighbor in Baltimore who’s grandchildren were just starting to pump out the next generation. Her mom would visit occasionally, so there would routinely be five generations of racist hillbillies over there popping pills and using offensive language.

      1. Now shift that to Jacksonville, FL and you have my family. I kid, I kid. We are all drunks, not pill poppers.

  9. Better that we all die forever, rather than a few* live now on the road to everyone living forever.

  10. “For evolutionary reasons, there is a good reason why we die when we do.”

    Citation needed.

    For evolutionary reasons, there is a good reason why so many defective people are born.

    For evolutionary reasons, there is a good reason why mutating lethal viruses should be allowed to infect the population.

    Etc.

    1. “Etc.”

      Yeah, exactly. This is the greeny claim of the superiority of ‘nature’ packaged in scientific terms. Bullshit on stilts.

    2. The only reason dying would give a species an evolutionary advantage would be

      (1) Resource constraints, so that one generation needs to die off so the next can eat.
      (2) Competition for mates, if the older generation is somehow crowding out the younger generation for breeding purposes.

      I can’t see either of those necessarily applying to human beings.

  11. Their work to slow or stop aging, if successful, is also likely to lead to broader societal upheaval, increasing pressure on natural resources and on the economy,

    This statement seems to suggest that dying young leads to less societal upheaval because it decreases the pressure on natural resources. This is a bold statement to make when only in the past 100 years man has been able to almost DOUBLE its life expectancy. Where are the upheavals? Where is the pressure on natural resources?

    [Francis Fukuyama said:] “Extending the average human life span is a great example of something that is individually desirably by almost everyone but collectively not a good thing.[“]

    Leaving aside the dumbness of presuming to know what is good for the collective when only individuals step on this good Earth. Let’s leave the fact that no one can be that clever for a second. What makes Fukuyama think that he has ANY credibility in this matter if he hasn’t committed suicide yet to prove the worth of his words and the seriousness of his contention? I am sure he is, like the rest of us, looking forward to a long and prosperous life and die in bed at 120 surrounded by his kids, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.

    1. This is a bold statement to make when only in the past 100 years man has been able to almost DOUBLE its life expectancy.

      This. We’ve already done what they fear.

      There is profound ignorance of human history in that article.

  12. Ok, I really can’t get over this. I mean I’m dumbstruck. These people are morons.

    I just cannot understand the mentality. Do they really hate themselves so much that they want to die? If so, why don’t they commit suicide? How does advocating for death make any sense whatsoever? Is the hate for the “rich” greater than their will to live?

    WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE AND HOW CAN THEY BE SO EVIL?

    1. Do they really hate themselves so much that they want to die?

      No, they hate other people so much that they are willing to die themselves if it means bringing others down with them.

      1. I would bet that most of these people visit the doctor routinely, don’t smoke, and generally try to live as long as possible. This isn’t about them at all. It’s about how they want other people, and only other people, to die in a manner that they consider fair.

    2. Re: Getto Sloval Goatherder,

      These people are morons.

      They’re just your regular old cadre of little red Marxians disguised as made-up people like “bioethicist.” What is a bioethicist, anyway? The term is stupid, as it implies Nature cares one fuck!

      1. Also, the notion that prior restraint is ethically the default position. Disgusting.

        1. I have yet to read a bioethicist who doesn’t eventually land on “people shouldn’t make their own life or death decisions, because we have Top Men to make those decisions for them.”

  13. Death may be inevitable for most of us, or even for everyone alive today. But to wet your pants to the extent that you can’t see how advancing medicine enough to make death optional for some people would be a fantastic boon for everybody, well, they have on several layers of blinders.

    It’s the same with everything. I may nto be able to afford a $500K car which gets to the end of a block before my car as even crossed the intersection, but that doesn’t mean the tech necessary won’t give me benefits too.

    Man I hate luddites.

    1. Right. Before you can be immortal you have to beat cancer, viruses, bacteria, and genetic defects. Seems like something worth putting some spare coin into.

  14. “Would it not be the ultimate injustice if only some people could afford a deathless existence, if the world were divided not only into rich and poor but into mortal and immortal?”

    Well… there can be only one, right?

    1. +1 Who Wants to Live Forever?

  15. Question is there anyone on the planet we should ignore more than someone who claims to be a “bio-ethicist”? I have yet to to read about one who wasn’t advocating for some policy that would lead to the death of millions of human beings. In this case it is the eventual death of all human beings.

  16. Zoloth, the Northwestern University bioethicist, said there is a reason why science often moves slowly.
    “Making scientific progress faster doesn’t necessarily mean better […]”

    Just who the fuck does he think he is? The Science Speedometer?

    The reason some science (or investigation) moves slowly is because of a lack of resources, as not everyone dreams of becoming a scientist when he is in his bed reading comic books or she’s listening to One Direction while making her nails. But that does not mean the reason science moves slowly is because it is better that way. That sounds reactionary.

    1. He’s got his science radar gun, he’s got the lab coat uniform, all he’s lacking is the ticket book and a gobernment badge.

    2. Just who the fuck does he think he is? The Science Speedometer?

      It’s funny. I was lamenting the other day how this has evaporated from the lefty ethos. Science used to be the Rights unbridled good and the leftists used to say things like, “Sure science says we *can* do XYZ, but *should* we?”

      Which, to me, indicated that they had some measure of principles. Not that we should intrinsically slow things down, but they at least had some deeper motivations other than Progress! and FYTW.

  17. Thiel’s disdain for the status quo is clear in the manifesto for Breakout Labs, the grant-making group he set up through his foundation. It laments that scientists with bold ideas have been left out in the cold and promises to change that. “We want to jailbreak them from existing research institutions and set them free,” it says. In an interview, Thiel said the problem with the grant-making processes at NIH, the National Science Foundation and other major funders of research is that they are “consensus-oriented.”

    OMG He’s a consensus denier! Burn him!

  18. “For evolutionary reasons, there is a good reason why we die when we do.”

    As far as evolution is concerned, Francis Fukuyama should have been eaten by a tiger at a ripe age of 35. The fact that he is still around, spouting nonsense, is a testament to a clear evolutionary failure.

    Seriously, I was strongly sceptical that we would be able to defeat death. But now that Fukuyama came against it, I’m certain it will happen – his ability to be wrong is that powerful.

  19. The field of “bioethics” is also where we get those who object to people paying for organ donation. Their twisted “ethics” indicates they value saving lives less than their desire to bash capitalism and to claim to know so much better than poor people what is best for them that they don’t wish to let poor people make their own choices. Of course the bioethicists presumably have no trouble with a capitalist system paying them. So unfortunately I’m not surprised at their anti-market views on anything.

    1. PS, by “anti-market” I meant opposition to rich people spending their own money in the market to research these things. I suspect that they have less objection to government research on improving life spans and are mostly reacting to rich people daring to do so, perhaps figuring such things would happen then at a slower pace. I suppose if a government lab did accidentally make a breakthrough some of them would also still be objecting to the idea of life extension, since it seems they are anti-dynamism, anti-progress and change. (even though most likely consider themselves “progressives” which we know is sort of a backwards label).

    2. Politics_Debunked|4.6.15 @ 12:07PM|#
      “The field of “bioethics” is also where we get those who object to people paying for organ donation.”

      Resulting in un-necessary deaths, I might add. Some “ethics” right there.

      1. It’s more convenient to make other people die for your beliefs.

        1. That’s always been my preference.

  20. I’d like to see the Venn diagram of “bioethicists” and Public Health officials.

    Control seems to be at the root of each profession.

    1. I’d like to see the Venn diagram of “bioethicists” and Public Health officials.

      That is known as a “circle”.

  21. People are already more interested in keeping their hair, smooth skin, and hard dicks than they are in curing many life threatening diseases. Maybe once humans have found s way to live forever they will start to care more about curing a horrible disease that could be with them for a loooooooong time.

    1. No deal! I want my smooth haired hard Dick!

    2. I think I once saw a movie that claimed everyone turns stupid in the future because all the brightest minds were working on boner and hair replacment pills…..

      1. Idiocracy was a documentary.

  22. Some scientists also say they are concerned that private money ? which can include seven-figure research grants and salaries that are two or three times what is offered in academia ? distorts research priorities.

    “Some scientists” should be burned at the stake.

    1. Science without central planning and uniform salaries “distorts research priorities”:

    2. That’s hilarious.

      “Oh no! They’re giving us tons of money to research immortality! Our priorities have been distorted by all this cash allowing us to do research!”

  23. “Would it not be the ultimate injustice if only some people could afford a deathless existence, if the world were divided not only into rich and poor but into mortal and immortal?”

    Why would it be an injustice at all if a person is willing to expend a substantial amount of wealth into the stream of commerce to save their own lives?

    Presumably this is “immortality” research, not “invulnerability” research. If you find your perpetual existing overlords so objectionable, then by all means, send them off from the mortal coil.

    “Making scientific progress faster doesn’t necessarily mean better ? unless if you’re an aging philanthropist and want an answer in your lifetime,”

    Immortality is only okay if the “right sort of people” get it. Got it. Good.

  24. Can we please not solve the mortality problem until enough old people die so prohibition can end? I just want to be able to smoke legally before I start popping immortality pills.

  25. I am not sure I would want to be immortal, but I definitely want to be around for long enough to get through my bucket list (or perhaps I should call it my ‘bucket book’.)

    Actually, Heinlein addressed the notion that people might choose to die despite the possibility of immortality in Time Enough for Love. One of the casual remarks he makes is that the leading cause of death on Secundus – the new home of the Howard Families – is suicide because people get bored of living. (IIRC ‘anomie’ is the term he uses.)

  26. Number Five: “Parents die, it is the only way for children to come into their own.”

  27. Kass’s take is pure envy. Rich people being “immortal” (lets face it, if you live long enough, unlikely means of accidental death become likely) won’t take a single day of life away from those who can’t afford it. In fact, the needed advances would likely make most people’s lives better in quality and quantity.

  28. No one seems able to predict what life might be like when half a dozen or more generations are alive simultaneously.

    While not a reason to stop trying to increase lifespans, I do find this kind of interesting. It’s kind of weird that my parents retired last year and my dad’s dad is still alive.

  29. Bioethics and the FDA exist to protect regulatory power. An individual and his doctor are not considered competent to determine medical care because without extensive regulation the doctor could trick the patient or drug them for some nefarious experiment. But the fact is that such nefarious experiments, like the Tuskagee Syphilis experiment, are government programs . So when you get sick and want to get better remember that you can only do so in manner approved of by your owner, the State.

  30. Since three score and ten is the limit of theological lifespan respectability, do Kass and the rest of the theogogues who colonized PCOB plant on hanging around around any longer?

  31. Aubrey de Grey wrote a thorough essay completely debunking the notion that immortality will be available only to the rich (sadly I cannot find it). He argues at least four reasons why the ability to pay will not be a factor once anti-aging therapies arrive.

  32. By and large, bioethics is not a particularly intellectually rigorous endeavor. After you get past a few cursory arguments, it comes down to the personal opinions of the ethicist and the supposed opinions of the public. Leon Kass, for all his florid language and esoteric philosophical, historical, and mythological references, presents arguments that can easily be dismantled by a high school student.

  33. ? as people live longer, work longer and imperil already strained entitlements such as Social Security.

    People who don’t retire are going to wreck the pension system? Run that by me again? Well, I guess it could imperil the jobs of pension managers.

  34. Life extension also would radically change the most important building block of society: the family. No one seems able to predict what life might be like when half a dozen or more generations are alive simultaneously.

    I suppose I might have to be polite to many more of them every few years.

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